For a few days now the “accepted wisdom” in political circles is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is close to striking a deal with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftalie Bennett. He has realized that it is impossible to break up the Lapid-Bennett alliance [one won’t enter the government without the other], so he has decided to buckle and bring them into his government.
But one lone newspaper is reporting something else. The haredi newspaper “Mishpacha” reported on Monday that Netanyahu has ordered his coalition negotiating team to make huge efforts to bring Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich into his coalition. “Hamishpacha” reported that Netanyahu told Yachimovich that she had until the end of this week to present her positions for entering the government, and that the Labor party chairwoman is apparently drawing up such a document. Should Yechimovich enter the government, Netanyahu could form a government with Labor , the haredi parties , Tzippi Livni’s Hatnuah , Kadima  as well as the Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list , to give him 72 Knesset seats. With that, Netanyahu could leave both Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi out of the government. According to the paper, Netanyahu told the three heads of the Shas party at a meeting on Sunday that “I am meeting with you for one purpose, and that is to get your help in getting Yechimovich into the coalition.”
Netanyahu fears Lapid [who could become prime minister] and he hates Bennett [it’s personal]. He would rather sell out large swathes of his economic vision [the socioeconomic gaps are widening and we need to bring Israeli society together, not pull it apart] and in return get Labor’s support for the serious security challenges facing Israel in the region, including a nuclear Iran, and the implosion of Syria.
So if that’s Netanyahu’s plan, it goes something like this: Netanyahu tells Yechimovich “You deal with the socioeconomic problems, I’ll take care of the security challenges, Tzippi will talk to the Palestinians, and the haredim will promise to build lots more houses so that apartment prices go down. And they promise to start entering the workforce in greater numbers. Everyone wins.”
But what about Netanyahu’s aversion to Yechimovich’s economic worldview?
Netanyahu is focusing all of his energies on coming up with a formula for bringing Labor into a coalition with his Likud-Beytenu and the haredi parties. He would rather give up significant powers over the country’s financial direction in return for Labor’s support for his undisputed leadership, something that would be significantly in jeopardy were Netanyahu to form a government with Lapid and Bennett. Netanyahu believes, rightly or wrongly, that the two political upstarts will do everything in their power to weaken him ahead of the next elections [in which he has vowed to contend], and stymie every one of his decisions. It will be a government of three heads, or so the thinking goes.
If Netanyahu can say “Livni won’t get anywhere near peace talks” and then give her peace talks, he can sit with Yechimovich in coalition after calling her economic policies “disastrous.”
A Netanyahu-Lapid-Bennett coalition is a coalition of big internal changes: haredi draft and workforce participation, change in the system of government, breaking the haredi monopoly on religious institutions, and other such things, which the haredim will never agree to. It is not a coalition of big diplomatic changes, as this coalition will only last if no concrete proposal is made to establish a Palestinian state. Talks yes, agreement no.
A Netanyahu-Labor-Hatnuah-haredim coalition is a coalition more to Netanyahu’s liking, as it is devoid of any real challengers to his leadership. It is also a coalition of potential external changes: a peace process with the Palestinians, as long as it is slow, measured, and fully backed by strong security guarantees. This coalition might even go for a settlement freeze to get the talks going again, and the haredim would love nothing better than that, to stick it to the “Gentiles and Reformim” of the national-religious camp. A settlement freeze might not even be that big of a risk for Netanyahu because, hey, he did it once before and the Palestinians didn’t come to the party.
I don’t know how likely this scenario is, but Netanyahu and his teams are working very intensively to bring Yechimovich on board. For her part, Yechimovich could strike gold with an appointment as finance minister, and perhaps some other serious socioeconomic portfolios. For the protest leaders in her party, getting into positions of real power must give them food for thought.